May 17, 2015

Rascovar: Hogan’s hypocrisy on pension funding and school aid

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Budget secretary David Brinkley explains pension funding in January.

Budget secretary David Brinkley explains pension funding in January.

Photo above: Budget Secretary David Brinkley explains Maryland’s failure to fund supplemental pension contributions.

Barry Rascovar has been covering Maryland politics since 1971. The topics and opinions in his Monday columns that appear first in MarylandReporter.com are his own. All of his columns appear on his own blog, PoliticalMaryland.com.

By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. makes it sound like he’s riding to the rescue of Maryland’s underfunded pension program that has been continually “raided” by evil Democratic legislators in Annapolis.

What a bunch of hogwash. It’s pure Hogan hypocrisy.

Hogan’s stance — torpedoing a $68 million education appropriation to the state’s most populous jurisdictions and shifting some of that money into the state pension fund — is based on politics, not policy.

Indeed, Hogan is a late convert to the cause of pension-fund integrity.

Silent secretary

When legislative analysts went before House and Senate budget panels and proposed a 50 percent reduction in Hogan’s $150 million supplemental appropriation to the pension fund, the governor’s budget secretary not only failed to object but congratulated lawmakers for their assiduous work in responsibly paring Hogan’s budget request.

Not until it became politically expedient later in the session to slam Democrats for cutting the supplemental appropriation in half did Hogan belatedly turn into a pension-funding hawk.

Since then, he’s continually referred to Democratic lawmakers’ “raid” of pension money.

Another bit of Hogan flummery.

The pension agency got so offended at this misguided gubernatorial propaganda pitch that it issued a press release regarding “the mistaken impression that the pension fund had been ‘raided’ by the General Assembly during the recently-completed session. This is not the case.”

No dipping allowed

The agency explained that the dispute centered on how much extra should be spent to help the state more quickly reach full funding to pay for future pension payouts. The state’s required $1.8 billion budget contribution to the retirement account this year remained untouched.

Indeed, it’s illegal for the legislature or the governor to “dip into” the $45.7 billion pension fund. That money can only be used to make pension payouts. No “raids” are permitted. But you’d never know that from listening to the governor’s spiel.

Hogan’s pension purity pursuit was his way of diverting attention from his other action — denying important state dollars to Baltimore City and other high-cost subdivisions to help them avoid layoffs or cuts in school programs.

He said it would be “absolutely irresponsible” to give that money to the schools instead of pouring it into the pension fund.

He’s got his priorities reversed.

The greatest immediate urgency is bolstering education achievement in distressed communities like West Baltimore. That takes money.

Further fortifying the state’s pension program can be done more gradually over the next decade or two.

Harsh consequences

Especially in light of civil unrest in poor, racially blighted Baltimore neighborhoods, Hogan’s decision to yank $11.6 million away from the city school system seems short-sighted and counter-productive.

The consequences of his action could be quite harsh when the General Assembly meets next January.  This slap in the face to Baltimore schools won’t be forgotten. Nor will legislators from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties forget Hogan’s slight, either. They lost a combined $37 million in school money.

The governor’s next big decision could be the fate of the two mass-transit lines affecting those three major jurisdictions — the east-west Red Line in Baltimore and the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs.

His actions on the two lines could prove pivotal in his dealings with Democratic lawmakers. Deep-sixing either project will prompt an uproar. Yet Hogan is intent on appeasing his conservative base by finding ways to sharply reduce mass-transit costs.

He’s playing with political dynamite.

If he sets off a Democratic explosion over the fate of the Red and Purple lines, the resulting fallout could cripple Hogan’s efforts to constructively deal with the General Assembly over the next three years.

Judging from his rejection of supplemental education aid, this governor seems determined to restrict Maryland’s future spending habits at all costs. His goal is to lower taxes. Everything else is secondary.

Barry Rascovar’s blog can be found at www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be contacted at brascovar@hotmail.com

  • Dale McNamee

    K-12 education makes up 40% of the state budget and it received a higher amount than the previous O’Malley budget…

    For folks like Rascovar, there’s never enough money…

    And Baltimore City has had $1BILLION spent on its schools and the results ?

    Why not try spending less ? Maybe the educational results will improve…

  • Vidi

    More mindless funding for education in west Baltimore? How much have we sunk there so far and for what results? Ask anyone in West Baltimore what they need more – jobs or education.

    If we must throw more and more money at education shouldn’t we ask for better results? Are we a bottomless pit of funding for the educational establishment that is never held accountable?

  • Truth

    Re-post:
    mr. Rascovar, could you please educate yourself before you write any article on Baltimore? Here are some facts ”
    The district has an annual budget of $1.32 billion to teach 84,000
    kids. The Baltimore school system ranks second among the nation’s 100
    largest school districts in how much it spent per pupil at $15,700 per
    student. Only NYC spends more. Only two thirds of students graduate high
    school, despite this high level of spending.

    The average SAT scores of Baltimore City public school students are:
    379 in Reading; 376 in Math; 381 in Writing. These are the scores of
    the best of the best in Baltimore schools who actually think they should
    get into college. The average scores in the country, which still suck,
    are around 500. Students with these scores have about a 15% chance of
    graduating college. This is the ROI you get after spending $188,000 per
    student over their 12 year academic career.
    The population of Baltimore is 623,000 and 63% are black. Median
    household income is $41,000, with 24% living below the poverty line. The
    home ownership rate is 48%. The percentage of college graduates is 27%.”

    Moreover, ”

    The fine citizens of this metropolis have not elected a Republican
    as mayor since 1963, before the War on Poverty began. That mayor’s 4
    year term is the only interruption in Democrat rule since 1947. They
    have had Democrat control for 64 of the last 68 years, and sole control
    for the last 48 years straight.
    Their mayor is black. Their previous mayor, Sheila Dixon, was black.
    She was convicted of embezzlement in 2010 and couldn’t finish her term.
    They had a white mayor (current Democratic Presidential hopeful Martin
    O’Malley) for eight years. The mayor before him was black.
    Their City Council consists of 15 members. All fifteen are
    Democrats. The Council President is black. Democrats have had control of
    legislation in Baltimore for the last 50 years. Every program, policy,
    initiative, or school curriculum that exists in Baltimore was enacted by
    liberal Democrats.
    The Police Commissioner is black. Approximately 50% of the police force is black
    .”

    The Baltimore situation is 50 years of liberal policies that destroys Baltimore. As of 2011, Baltimore spends $15,700 (2nd highest in the country) per student but only 2 thirds of student graduate high school.

  • Waldez

    Gov. Hogan has rewarded the citizens of Maryland who commute to jobs by lowering the tolls on Maryland Bridges, that means more, even to Registered Democrats, than sinking untold millions into a corrupt, grossly incompetent, negligent Baltimore School System. A Progressive Governor of Maryland could better enhance Education by closing Coppin University and using those funds to build a campus in Harford County
    Regarding transportation, for years and years fighting went back and forth on the infamous Inter-County-Connector but finally it was built. Have you driven on it lately, it is a virtually unused monument to bureaucracy but you advocate for billions more in studies, corrupt land deals and political payoffs. The present light rail ridership in Baltimore are grossly below capacity because they are deemed unsafe by potential riders. Take a day Mr. Rascovar and ride light rail from one end the other, have lunch at Lexington Market and off to ride the subway for the afternoon, be sure to carry your laptop so you can write on the ride. I would enjoy reading your first hand account of Public Transit in the Free State.

    • Guestly guest

      Waldez, I agree with many of your points. I have to respectfully differ on your assessment of the current light rail system, however. I commute on this line regularly from the Woodberry / Mount Washington area, and I regularly sit in cars that are full of well-dressed people going to and from their jobs in the city. Are there specific hours on specific days when you get a lot of drunks and such? Yes, of course there are. They’re call Orioles games, and they make city businesses a lot of money. Maybe it would be better to have all those folks on the road as drunk drivers?

      Anyhow, that’s *my* first-person account of the existing light rail line. Like many young Maryland residents, my wife and I moved here from a Midwest state because we expected to live in an Eastern Seaboard city. If we see that the city and state governments are too provincial and/or inept to embrace that role by building good transit, we will not hesitate to move our substantial earning power to another state where leaders make beter policy choices. You can urge us not to the door hit our hipster butts on the way out if you like — none of that will change the fact that much of our generation has a similar desire for transit.

      If Maryland chooses not to build adequate rail options, the entire region (including the suburbs) will be hobbled by the region’s inability to attract the kind of young, wealthy, educated residents who prefer transit. If you truly care about Harford county — as I genuinely believe you do — I would urge you to reconsider your opinion on the red line. As I mentioned, I agree on several of your other points. Thanks for listening.

      • Guestly guest

        Corrections of a couple of my typos:

        — They’re *called* Orioles games

        — You can urge us not to let *the* door hit us …

  • MD observer

    Rascover hasn’t made any case for “hypocrisy.” Hogan is simply being prudent to spend limited resources for one object (pensions) instead of another (education) because pensions’ unfunded actuarial liabilities were given short shrift over the last 10 years while taxpayer money was being wasted in the state’s most popular school districts. Reversing that trend is not hypocritical and can’t be objectively labeled political.

    If there is any doubt about millions of waste and abuse in PG and Baltimore school systems, read the pertinent legislative auditor’s reports.

    Rascover says Hogan falsely argues historical pension underfunding corresponded with raids from the $45 billion corpus of paid-in pension money under the control of the state Pension and Retirement System. This is a straw argument that Rascover can’t cavalierly make in order to shoot down.